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Nuclear ice cream is not how this Ontario dessert maker wants to be known

Ontario ice cream maker Chapman's says a proposal to bury the nation's stockpile of spent nuclear fuel in the province's agricultural heartland doesn't do the dairy industry any favours, but not everyone agrees. 

Chapman's Ice Cream says proposal to bury nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin is 'shortsighted'

Ashley Chapman, vice-president of Chapman's Ice Cream, worries if a proposed nuclear waste disposal facility goes ahead in South Bruce it could stigmatize dairy from the area. (Chapman's Ice Cream)

Ontario ice cream maker Chapman's says a proposal to bury the nation's stockpile of spent nuclear fuel in the province's agricultural heartland doesn't do the dairy industry any favours. 

Chapman's manufactures frozen desserts in Markdale, Ont., a community about an hour northeast of Teeswater, a dairy processing hub and one of two potential sites in Ontario that could play host to a proposed deep geological repository, or DGR; a $23 billion high tech nuclear waste dump that would store nearly three million bundles of spent nuclear fuel about half a kilometre below the earth. 

The proposal has divided communities in Bruce County, sparking disagreement in town halls, arenas, coffee shops and dinner tables across the region. 

Now, Ashley Chapman, the Vice-President of Chapman's Ice Cream said he's worried that if the proposal eventually goes through, there could be potential stigma associated with dairy produced and processed in the Bruce County area. 

Location 'just silly' 

A map shows where the area where engineers and geologists studying to determine if the area is right for a proposed deep geological repository for the long-term storage of Canada's nuclear waste. (NWMO)

"Having a nuclear waste dump smack dab right where I get all my dairy for my product doesn't fill me with joy," he said. "To think that we could have a nuclear waste dump in such a strategically important processing area for dairy is just silly."

What makes Bruce County an important dairy processing area is the facility owned by Gay Lea Foods Cooperative in the town of Teeswater, which supplies Chapman's with much of the dairy mix used in its frozen dessert products manufactured in Markdale. 

A company spokeswoman for Gay Lea Foods said the cooperative has no official position on whether the proposed deep geological repository should go ahead.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, the federal agency in charge of building the project said the DGR is designed to safely contain and isolate radioactive waste over a period of thousands of years through a series of layered engineered and natural barriers, including the Earth's bedrock. 

Chapman's Ice Cream might manufacture its frozen desserts in Markdale, Ont., but its biggest supplier is Gay Lea Foods, which operates a processing facility in Teeswater, a small town southeast of the proposed nuclear waste facility. (Shutterstock)

"I'm sure it will be safe," Chapman said. "But really it's the average consumer people like me have to worry about. Public perception is everything and I can't criticize the public with associating bad things with nuclear and milk in this instance."

Chapman argues recent changes, such as changing consumer tastes and a changing food guide, have put pressure on the industry.

Since 1979, the average consumption of milk in Canada shrank from its high water mark of 98 litres per person to 64 litres a person by 2015, according to Statistics Canada. Ice cream habits also retreated over the same period from an average of 12.7 litres a person in 1979 to 4.4 litres in 2015. 

It might not be a surprise then that the number of Ontario dairy farms dwindled as well, from 5,346 in 2004 to 3,534 in 2018, according to Statistics Canada.

"I think it's a very shortsighted plan," he said. 

'We all own the responsibility for this'

With less dairy being consumed, dairy farms in Ontario have dwindled, from 5,346 in 2004 to 3,534 in 2018, according to Statistics Canada.  (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Except "shortsighted" isn't how Bruce County dairy farmer Mark Ireland sees the DGR project. His family runs Albadon farms, about three kilometres south of Teeswater. 

"We all own the responsibility for this," he said. "If you turned the lights on this morning and the coffee maker on this morning, this is your responsibility for the future generations."

Ireland said he's lived in the area all his life and for the last 60 years, spent nuclear fuel has been stored above ground near the Bruce Nuclear Power Generating Station without incident. 

"I've never heard anybody say 'you know what? I don't feel safe with this nuclear thing just down the road, I'm going to move to Saskatchewan where they produce their electricity by burning coal.'" 

The Ontario Ministry of Labour regularly monitors air, surface water, precipitation, milk, produce and meat in the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington areas for radionuclides. Ongoing studies have found only miniscule amounts and at levels far below the limits prescribed by the World Health Organization for human health. 

"It's an indication of the thoroughness of the nuclear industry," Ireland said. "I don't see any particular danger in putting it somewhere else that it's certainly more protected if it's encased in rock." 

The NWMO has been holding monthly meetings for a number of years, to explain the scope and the technology behind the project to the people in the area. 

But the proposed waste facility has rankled environmental groups who are unsettled over the potential contamination of prime farmland and Lake Huron drinking water.

Researchers are currently probing the limestone beneath area to determine its stability and suitability for a long-term storage facility in South Bruce.

The NWMO's other prospective location for the DGR is the town of Ignace, about three hours northwest of Thunder Bay. 

 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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